Friday Evening Videos: “Walking in Memphis”

Okay, this one is going to take a bit of explaining, so bear with me, please…

The first time I traveled anywhere as an adult, I spent a week in Reno, Nevada, with my dad. Long story, which really isn’t germane to this entry, but I will just say that that trip seemed like a great adventure to me, coming at a time when I really needed one. I was 21 and hurting from a breakup with a girl, eager to figure out exactly who and what I was, bored with my day-to-day life, and chafing against the moralizing, uptight atmosphere of my home state. (The girl who dumped me was a Mormon, you see, and it had been an issue in our split.) Getting away from all that stuff and into a fresh environment that glorified, shall we say, adult pursuits was an invigorating experience. Whether or not it really helped me figure anything out is questionable. But if nothing else, I discovered one of my favorite songs that week.

It seemed to be playing everywhere I went in Reno: in the lobby of the Flamingo Hotel, where we stayed; in the coffee shop at the Club Cal Neva Casino, where I ate a lot of $1.99 ham-and-eggs; in the ice cream shop where I met the colorful old man who claimed to have been with Claire Chennault and the Flying Tigers in China; and even in the bar of the infamous Mustang Ranch, where I went one night and drank a Tom Collins, just so I could say I’d been there. (I chickened out when it came to doing anything more.) I loved this song, a slightly melancholy but ultimately affirmational, piano-based tune that somehow perfectly suited my general mood and frame of mind at the period of my life. But I had no idea what it was called, or who performed it. (This was long before the World Wide Web came along and made it so simple to learn these things.) I’d never heard it before my Reno trip, and I didn’t hear it again for about six months after. But finally, one glorious day, it popped up on a radio station back home in Salt Lake City, and a helpful DJ finally gave me a title and artist: “Walking in Memphis,” by Marc Cohn. In short order, I tracked down and purchased the album it came from, and to my delight found that there wasn’t a bad song on the entire disc. It’s still one of my favorite listens two decades later. (Two decades?! Oy. I think I need to go lie down for a moment.)

Fast forward to just a couple years ago. I’ve just seen Marc Cohn live at a smallish outdoor venue here in Utah, but unlike most musicians who disappear backstage after the last encore and are already halfway to their next gig before the ringing has left the audience’s ears, Marc is setting up at a card table outside the amphitheater, making himself available to fans for autographs, pictures, or just to say hello in person. I knew there was a chance he might do this — friends who’d seen him before had told me to be ready for it — but I was still surprised. I’ve never seen anybody else do this, not even performers who are known for having good relations with their fans. As I said, I’d known about this possibility in advance and had come prepared. I asked him to sign my old, well-played CD of his self-titled debut album, and I quickly related a condensed version of the way I’d discovered “Walking in Memphis,” his best-known song and biggest hit. And he was very nice and very gracious, even though he’s surely heard variants of that story a thousand times before. I came home that night with the impression that Marc Cohn, in addition to being a great live performer, is also an all-round cool human being.

Now jump to this morning. My day started badly for reasons that don’t bear repeating. I was in a just-plain bitchy mood as I arrived at work and signed into my computer. As usual, I wasted a couple of minutes catching up on Facebook while I sipped my first cup of coffee and waited to find out what was on my agenda for the day. And there I saw a post by Marc Cohn, who I’ve been following for a while, and I was inspired to dash off a quick comment. No big deal. I do that all the time with several celebrities I follow on Facebook and/or Twitter. I never expect any sort of response, nor have I ever gotten one. So imagine my shock when I’m notified a few minutes later that someone has answered my comment… and it’s Marc Cohn himself!

Here’s a screen grab:


Now isn’t that something? It’s not like I think Marc Cohn and I are best pals now or anything like that, but I am… pleased… that I apparently struck some kind of chord in him with one of my fondest memories.

You know, Facebook takes a lot of heat for various reasons — because it’s superficial and it’s a huge timesink, and because of privacy concerns — and these criticisms all have some genuine merit. But the great thing about Facebook is that enables a truly remarkable level of connection and interaction between people who otherwise might not have any contact at all. I admit, that’s sometimes a bad thing. But sometimes it’s a really magical and satisfying thing, too. Having the man who wrote and recorded a song that means so much to me say something like that… well, it didn’t exactly fix my crappy day. But it certainly helped.

I intend to do some more blogging over the long holiday weekend, but in the meantime, I’m going leave with you all with this, my favorite song from the summer of 1991, a tune about Memphis that will forever remind me of Reno, and the best-known work by a genuinely cool human being:

If I don’t make it back here, Happy Memorial Day, everyone! Enjoy some, ahem, adult pursuits, won’t you?